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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  September 29, 2014 11:30pm-12:01am EDT

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good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. tonight first a conversation about a radical approach to alleviating personal debt with hannah appel. you can la assistant professor of anthropology. she's part of a group called strike debt that grew out of the occupy wall street movement which made headlines three years ago this month. what the strike debt activists are doing may just revolutionize with how we deal with debt in america. then we'll turn to a conversation with musician aloe blacc whose new cd has just leased and hit number four on billboard chart. he'll close out with a performance entitled "the man." those conversations and a performance from aloe blacc coming up right now.
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> the debt load carried by americans right now is a daunting more than 77% of all households in debt. one in seven americans being pursued by debt collectors. stepping into that to help average americans get under the economic burden is an offshoot of the aup wall street movement
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called strike debt. one of works to find buy and abolish debt that had been turned over for collection. to join me is activist and ucla professor dr. hannah appel. fulbright scholar who earned her ph.d. at stanford. thank you for being on the program. >> glad to be here. >> what is the rolling jubilee? >> it's something we can think of as a social hack. it's an action that allows us, that in fact forces us to rethink, to reimagine what we thought we knew about debt. in the past debtors experienced debt as isolating, shameful, a reason to be afraid, a reason not to open the mail, a reason not to pick up the phone. and the rolling jubilee and strike debt work more broadly in saying what if debt was not about individual isolation, shame, fear, what if debt was a platform for collective action? so the rolling jubilee, by
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buying up what's called distressed debt for pennies on the dollar and then sending a letter to the debtor saying, hey, we've forgiven this debt, we don't try to collect it. we abolish it. we ask people to rething that and say, wait a minute, you can buy debt for pennies on the dollar? most think if their debt is a thousand dollars, it will cost a thousand dollars. they don't know that debt collectors are making hundreds of percent profit by forcing me to pay the full amount when in fact the debt collector bought it for only pennies on the dollar. so it's really about public education. it's about asking people to step back and rethink debt just as you introduced it in the beginning of the show as a systemic problem and not as the problem of the failure of the individual and in the rolling jubilee project we're able to help thousands of debtors along the way and that's wonderful, but it's really about asking the entire nation and beyond to rethink debt as a political platform. >> how does debt to your mind at least in doing your research,
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how did debt exacerbate and explode the way that it has? student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt in this country. that's just one aspect of it. why as americans are we in such debt these days? >> that's a really interesting question. i would take it back about 20 to 30 years to what some people will refer to as financialization, meaning when was the time when the social safety net, what we used to think about as social goods, education, health care, when did those things explode in price? and when did people have to start debt finance those? in other words, when was the university of california system no longer effectively free? when was it that real estate prices shot through the roof and people actually had to go into crippling debt for the basic things we had to survive. certainly medical care. and student debt. that's been over the last three decades when there hasn't been as much public funding and people had to go into radical
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debt to send kids to college. kids are graduating with $30,000 worth of debt on average from all schools in the country. >> you used an example a moment ago. let me go back to that. your work underscores this. if you owe the bank a thousand, the bank owns you. if the bank owes you a million dollars you own them. they own and control you and they make you feel the brunt of the weight that they place down on you. but if you owe a million doors you got a little more flex inlt in some ways. >> let's just take the category of student debt. student debt is approaching $1.3 trillion. so we can turn that adage and say if i owe the pabank $25,000 for my student loan, then the bank owes me. but if we as student debtors owe the bank $1.3 trillion, then we
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own a tremendous amount of power, untapped power in our hands. millions of students are defaulting on their loans every year already. but we're not doing so in an organized fashion, not in a way that brings the collective power of that, to actually have power to negotiate terms with creditors and not strike that newest project that we're so excited about which is called the debt collective. it's basically a platform. we think of it as the new come together, act together, organize together and actually really start to make demands. >> how does that actually happen, though? because as much as i like the idea and turned on by the idea of debtors and there are many of us, myself included, who can all come together. >> yes. >> and you said use this issue as a political platform i can see the framework for how that happen, yet i know that
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financial institutions don't respond that way. they deal with every individual and they make the individual feel the pressure or whatever they want to apply based on what you owe. >> right. >> how do you transition from this being an individual fight to being a collective fight? >> that's an excellent question. that's exactly what the debt collective is trying to approach. you used the example of financial institutions approach people as individuals, but imagine what we can do on the debt collective, for example with data analysis, we can do all kinds of things but one of the things is figure out who has debt with which institutions. so we could organize debtors for example institution by institution so even though institutions would like to deal with debtors as individuals, we could get a whole group of individuals who are in debt to one institution whose debt originated with one specific institution and say, okay, let's set our terms, let's pay our monthly payments, those of us who can into an escrow account which is a longstanding historical tactic. in other words, we don't have to be financially disobedient. we can show that we're paying
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money monthly, but we'll pay it into escrow, we won't pay it in an institution until the interest rate is just, until the principal amount comes down. until we feel that certain kinds of debt that were exploet attive, we can think back to the mortgage scam until those debts have been actually been abolished, until those debts have been renegotiated. certainly financial institutions want to treat us as individuals, but because we owe the bank those trillions of dollars we actually have a tremendous amount of power in our hands to organize and what stands between us and that is organizing. an that's the platform we're setting is up. i hear my grandma, big mama, saying too much to me it's just too much like right. that's a way of saying it's such a great idea, makes so much sense that it ain't easy so make happen. just too much right. you raised a point about organization and mobile hisization. seems to me that's the difficult part here. the idea makes perfect sense.
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using a political platform makes perfect sense. but how does one go about -- i feel the same issue about poverty, that everybody understands the argument, everybody gets that poverty is threatening our democracy. everybody gets that poverty is a now a matter of national security. income inequality, everybody gets that yet trying to org noise and mobilize poor people into a collective is the difficult work that needs to be done. so i love the idea. but how do you make the transition from the idea, from the moment to some momentum and into a movement? >> yeah, so the rolling jubilee, our most vent debt buy was stnt debt. on december 17th, the third anniversary of occupy wall street, we announced that we had bought and abolished $4 million of student debt at a national chain under the corinthians colleges incorporated corporation. i feel like that's a really good
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example of how we can start to mobilize. that has attracted a lot of media attention, right? so we can take that and we leverage the rolling jubilee launch into the launch of the debt collective and we got 3,000 people who put their debt on the map who signed up within two days. right? and now we're about a week out and we have thousands and thousands of people who are ready. we're working with those everest students here in the los angeles area and more broadly helping them, showing them what the platform of a debt collective could look like. we have a legal team that works with us that starts to thing about what are your rights, everest students, corinthian students. right now you have the opportunity if your school is being closed to apply as an individual for a debt waiver. what would it look like if we could make that a collective solution? how can we use all of the media attention that's on corinthian, that's on the rolling jubilee, to say, we don't want each of you to have to go through this tortured bureaucrat process. we thing that you all deserve a
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debt waiver and there should be a simplified process and we can use our legal resources and the media resources to change again those debtors' situations from individual situations that are incredibly difficult, bureaucratic and you never thing you're going to succeed to another process. it looks like there's a tremendous amount of momentum, maxine waters is behind us. around this idea of collective action. >> let me ask you?v a question. i can think of any number of powerful lobby organizations in washington, seniors, aarp comes to mind, teachers union, nra, the gun lobby comes to mind, but i can think of no more powerful lobby in all the country than financial institutions. so what's the response going to be of these banks? because that's the thing that -- i can't imagine what interest there is for them in this regard. >> right. yeah, i mean, certainly the idea
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of a debt collective is not in the interest of the banks. and i do imagine that there will be a lot of counterpressure. however, given the statistics that you outlined at the beginning of the show, given how many of us are in debt and given where public opinion is in this country about the banks right now, i actually thing we could have a tremendous amount of legal decisions on our side. i think a lot of the media will be on our side. public pressure to get us out of what we might call odious debt, exploitive debt and how we fund working class kids, low income kids, middle class kids should not graduate from public schools with $30,000 worth of debt. i actually think the vast majority of this country across the political spectrum would agree with that. that's not something, that kind of unity is not something the banking lobby can fight easily. >> very quickly, can you see
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this becoming an issue in the 2016 presidential election where candidates are forced to take a position on this issue? >> we know -- you know, we are out to be kind of a new labor movement in some ways. the idea is not to replace the labor movement but to say that the way the labor movement changed works conditions for working people, we would like to be that same movement for indebted people especially because in certain ways so many more people are indebted and have good jobs. in that way we want it to be a huge impact issue. certainly if people have to deal with it in the 2016 election, we've done our job. >> the rolling jubilee and the debt collective, hannah appel of ucla. >> thank you so much. wonderful to be here. >> coming up a conversation with musician aloe blacc. he'll close out our show with a performance. stay with us.
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aloe blacc is an artist with a mission. his lyrics have been called thoughtful and thought provo provoking. one of his songs "i need a dollar" became the theme for an hbo documentary. and his latest "lift your spirit" includes a clear-eyed look at racial inequality in this country. he'll be performing that song at the close of this show. he's not always serious. as singing the smokey robinson hit on "dancing with the stars." welcome to the program. >> thank you. >> we met on the dancing set. >> you did a great job. >> i don't know how my dancing was. your singing was good, though. i would have given you higher scores for your singing than they gave me for my dancing. it was nice to meet you then and glad to have you on the program. everybody is digging your stuff not just because of the musicality of it but the message and the music who knew that message music with the right beat could still work? >> i knew it could. i was happy to be signed by
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intercope. and they continue to support me to make message music. important in this day and age, you see what's happening in the music climate. it's very hard for me to get the visibility that i think i deserve amongst what else is going on, but it's happening, the right kind of leadership and the organizations. >> what makes it so hard? >> well, the gatekeepers, the gatekeepers want to continue to share specific and certain kinds of messages because they think that's what the people want. that's what the plethora is out there. when they see what i'm doing, it doesn't really gibe. and luckily, people like simon fuller and jimmy iovine who have some pull can help magnify what i do and make it relevant in today's marketplace. >> that always strikes me how that was so backyard and so stuck on stupid. i mean, if everything sounds the same and every now and then you
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come across something that breaks through and is a little bit different oftentimes it's the difference that makes the difference, but people can't seem to hear that. i don't want turn on the radio station and hear the same. >> you don't and i don't think anybody else does. but the fans and the average music lover wants diversity. just like in your diet. i consider music like food. however, there's an entire economic structure and metric that goes, you know, into the way that music is played for us in media and the way that we are receiving it so that they continue to sell advertising. >> how do you -- how do you have a message at the center of your music without proselytizing? because you pull that off really well. there's a message there but you're not preachy, you're not beating me on the head with it. >> i started out in hip-hop and i used to do a lot of preaching to the choir, press lettizing in the hip-hop music.
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at a certain point i felt it wasn't effective any more. i wanted to create music that can touch masses but still offer something of substance. michael jackson was one of the greatest who could make pop music with messages in it. bob marley was able to do the same. stevie wonder and james brown. so i decided i would focus on melody and the feeling, and when you've got that right, then you can, you know, put the message in there. >> i'll put you on the spot. i'll play the game with you so you don't feel bad. give me their song that is your favorite that had a message in it. michael jackson. >> michael jackson, two, doesn't matter if your black or white, which is about racial tolerance dressed in a pop song. another song called "they don't care about us." ♪ they don't really care about us ♪ >> economic inequality dressed in a pop song.
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bob marley "one love" speaking about tolerance and love. but putting it in a message that is so huge and such an infectious song, you know. jims brown "i'm black and i'm proud." that was a fun song. you got people of all races and creeds and colors singing the same lyric. >> and stevie wonder. >> and stevie wonder? oh, "sir duke." >> you went back on that. >> if i'm right about my theory, i believe that what he was saying in there was the music that is being created is to elate and create joy, and this is a message. and he's paying respect to all of the old greats who helped pave the way. he put it into a nice, fun, danceable song, but he's smacking people down saying, listen, you've got really great jazz musicians who pave the way. when everybody is shouting out
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that benny goodman is the king of jazz, what about duke ellington and what about, you know, everybody else that actually wrote the charts that benny goodman was using. so that's where i feel like -- and there's other stevie wonder songs. >> stevie's a genius. all those artists -- >> just enough for the city. >> exactly. michael. i play "man in the mirror" all the time. i love the black and white song is great. i love all his stuff. but there's something so personal about that man in the mirror thing that speaks directly. >> man in the mirror is really huge. >> that's a great segue because those are the greats of yesteryear and you are one of the greats of tomorrow, i predict. what is it that you want to get across in this project "lift your spirit"? >> creating music is something that can hold you in those times where you just need to be happy, lift your spirit, use music as a
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celebratory tool. i was speaking mainly about social issues, economic issues, political issues, but i felt like this time it's important to create something that's more celebratory. the first track "the man" that you're going to perform for us in a few minutes here. >> i want to make music that can inspire, that can motivate. so in this particular piece, i wanted to write a song that acknowledges the parts of me that are broken and acknowledges the parts of me that can change and become better. so i start the song off with i believe every lie i ever told paid for every heart i ever stole. to me those are folk and blues lyrics that say i'm not per pekt. but stand up, face the sun, won't hide my tail and turn and run. it's making myself better and the man i want the be. >> your message isn't in the
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life you live and what you create, it's about everything you do. i thought i heard a baby in the hallway today. they said, yes, that's aloe's baby. i said what's the baby's name, and they told me. >> mandela. >> mandela. that extends to everything he does. his name is a-l-o-e b-l-a-c-c. "lift your spirit." as he performed "the man" from the new cd, good night, good to have you on this ram. you have a great career in front of you. i'm glad i met you at the beginning of it. you're going to keep soaring, though. you're the man. thanks for watching. enjoy this performance. as always, keep the faith. ♪ you can tell everybody
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yeah you can tell everybody ♪ go ahead and tell everybody i'm the man i'm the man i'm the man ♪ ♪ yes i am yes i am yes i am ♪ i'm the man i'm the man i'm the man ♪ ♪ i believe every lie that i ever told paid for every heart that i ever stole ♪ ♪ i played my cards and i didn't fold ♪ ♪ well it ain't that hard when you got so old ♪ ♪ this is my world somewhere i heard that life is a test ♪ ♪ i've been through the worst but i still get my rest ♪ ♪ god made my mold different from the rest ♪ ♪ then he broke that mold so i know i'm blessed ♪ ♪ this is my world ♪ stand up now and face the sun ♪ ♪ turn tail and run ♪ time to do what must be done ♪ kingdom come ♪ you can tell everybody yeah you can tell everybody ♪
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♪ go ahead and tell everybody ♪ i'm the man i'm the man i'm the man ♪ ♪ well you can tell everybody ♪ yeah you can tell everybody ♪ go ahead and tell everybody ♪ i'm the man i'm the man i'm the man ♪ ♪ yes i am yes i am yes i am ♪ i'm the man i'm the man ♪ i got all the answers to your questions i'll be the teacher ♪ ♪ you can be the lessons ♪ i'll be the preacher you be the confession ♪ ♪ i'll be the quick release to all your stresses ♪ ♪ this is my world ♪ yes a thin line between love and hate ♪ ♪ is it really real or is it really fake ♪ ♪ i'm a soldier standing on my feet ♪ ♪ no surrender and i won't retreat ♪ ♪ because this is my world ♪ stand up now and face the sun ♪ ♪ won't hide my tail or turn and run ♪
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♪ it's time to do what must be done ♪ ♪ kingdom come ♪ you can tell everybody ♪ yeah you can tell everybody go ahead and tell everybody ♪ ♪ i'm the man i'm the man i'm the man ♪ ♪ well you can tell everybody yeah you can tell everybody ♪ ♪ go ahead and tell everybody ♪ i'm the man i'm the man ♪ i'm the man ♪ ♪ go ahead and tell everybody ♪ this is my world ♪ you can tell everybody ♪ i'm the man i'm the man i'm the man ♪ ♪ yes i am yes i am yes i am ♪ i'm the man i'm the man i'm the man ♪
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[ applause ] >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with republican strategist and writer david frum about the upcoming election. that's next time. we'll see you then.
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>> and my contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. be more, pbs.
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>> rose: welcome to the program. we begin this evening with china and talk to orville schell and nicholas bequelin. >> beijing is not keeping its promise, it has laid out some rules that say that he will pick, beijing will pick the candidates. that the hong kong electorate can vote for. therefore screening out any candidate that beijing doesn't like. the hong kong public doesn't like testimony hong kong students don't like it, and the result is the the protest that we're seeing today. >> rose: we continue with paul ryan, the congressman and former vice presidential nominee. his new book is called "the way forward" >> i think one of the thins we did in the war on poverty, we, meaning society and government, inadvertently was we gave people the impression that this is government's responsibility. pay your taxes, don't worry about a thing. government will solve these problems. that's not truement n

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